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COVID-19

‘We’re already late’: Madrid warns Delta strain could become Spain’s dominant Covid variant 

Over the past week, authorities in the Spanish capital have detected 18 cases of the Delta variant, leading them to warn that the Covid-19 strain first identified in India could soon become the "predominant strain" in Spain in the coming weeks.

madrid india variant
People enjoy the good weather at Madrid's Retiro Park. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Madrid public health officials Elena Andradas and Antonio Zapatero on Friday June 11th announced that there has been “community transmission” of Delta variant B.1.617.2 in the central Spanish region, following 22 detected cases in the past 14 days, 18 over the past week. 

As a result, health authorities in Madrid have brought forward the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people between the ages of 60 and 69.

According to the World Health Organisation, “community transmission” is the worse transmission scenario. 

It’s used to describe a situation where a person is infected by the virus but they’ve not been overseas recently or been in contact with confirmed cases, making it near impossible to trace the sources of infection.

“We’re already late,” Zapatero stressed, adding that his team were sequencing more potential cases of the Delta variant.

“What happens with the Indian variant is that it fundamentally behaves in a way that is more transmissible and we have seen a greater number of cases and admissions”, he added, forgetting to use the new Greek alphabet terminology suggested by the WHO.  

“It is 50 percent more transmissible than the British variant and this spread throughout the territory already happened in the United Kingdom.” 

According to the deputy public health head, young people are particularly exposed as they make up the age groups that haven’t received either one dose or the complete treatment. 

“Each case is tracked and closely monitored, but we imagine that the situation may be like the one we had in December and January with the British variant,” Zapatero concluded.

On June 11th, Public Health England said Delta variant cases had jumped by 30,000 in a week, despite the UK’s advanced vaccination campaign. 

In early May, Spain’s Health Ministry said the Alpha variant which originated in Kent made up 90 percent of active infections in Spain. 

Throughout the month of May, more Delta cases were detected in the regions of Galicia, Extremadura, Catalonia, the Basque Country. Although Spain’s health ministry has not confirmed the official total, those reported by the media add up to around 50. 

For Madrid health officials however, the confirmation of community transmission in the capital means that the variant first detected in India will be the predominant in Madrid in the next six weeks and then replace the Alpha variant as the most dominant across Spain. 

Spain decided on April 27th to make all travellers arriving from India undergo a 10-day quarantine to prevent the potential spread of the B.1.617.2 variant within the Spanish territory. 

However, it wasn’t until Saturday May 1st that the measure came into effect, leading some critics to question why the quarantine wasn’t implemented immediately

Spain also decided to impose restrictions on travellers from India later than its European counterparts Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands.

On June 11th, Spain’s Health Ministry extended the quarantine requirement for these travellers until at least June 26th, but the Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies (CCAES) continues to be classify the Delta variant as “of interest” rather than “of concern”.

In late May, Zapatero accused Spain’s national government of negligence for reportedly being aware that less than 10 percent of Covid tests were being carried out on inbound travellers at the Spanish capital’s airport, as well as allowing in people who have tested positive for Covid-19.

READ MORE:

‘A ridiculous lack of control’: Madrid slams Spanish govt for allowing Barajas travellers in with positive PCR tests

On June 11th, Zapatero reiterated that Spain’s central government hadn’t acted responsibly in terms of border control and that 17 cases of another variant, the B.1.621 strain which was first detected in Colombia, had also been detected at Barajas airport.

Despite the threat posed by the arrival of new variants before Spain’s population is fully vaccinated, the country’s fortnightly infection rate has more than halved over the last month and currently stands at 110 cases per 100,000 people.

As things stand on June 11th 2021, a quarter of Spain’s population (11.8 million) have been fully vaccinated and 43.4 percent (20.6 million) have received at least one dose. 

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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